Writers & Reps: Insights From Manager Marc Manus

Hard working literary manager Marc Manus is one whose star is unquestionably on the rise. Not only have his clients struck big deals with such power players as Universal, 20th Century Fox and Lionsgate, but his most recent spec sale came just a few months ago when his clients TJ Cimfel & David White sold their horror thriller Shut In to Radioactive Giant. Marc’s been involved with writers I’ve worked with myself, so I know how hard he works for his clients first hand. Having known Marc, and been a fan of his dedication and hard work, for years now, we recently got together for a cup of coffee and some industry reflections at a downtown Culver City establishment. When he agreed to answer some writer-centric questions for my readers, I jumped on the chance.

When considering writers for representation, what do you look for? 
A sense of commitment — and talent, obviously. The former has a symbiotic relationship with the latter. If a writer can’t stomach the endless merry-go-round that is the film and TV business, then he or she might be better off doing something else. Beyond that, openness and generosity, two essential ingredients, in my opinion, to a long, prosperous career. I also look for a high-level of self-awareness – the writer should know his/her areas of expertise and interest.
What can a writer expect when working with you? 
Honesty.  I’ve heard from both clients and producers that they appreciate my candor and forthrightness.  I don’t believe in avoidance – it’s only dangerous in the long run.  Good managers are also good developers – of material AND careers.  I spend a lot of time discussing concepts with my clients, sometimes getting all the way to an outline before realizing it’s not working.  If the ideas don’t past muster with me, they won’t light any fires with time-crunched agents, executives and producers.  I always tell potential clients that I’m a partner in this endeavor.
What do you expect from your writers? 
Above all, a dedication to improvement. I want them to understand how difficult this journey is and therefore be in a position to deal with disappointment and setback, yet keep moving forward with a desire to make the work better. I also expect them to be educated about their craft. They should do their homework-read scripts, and then read more scripts. Get their hands on everything they can.

Did you ever find a script you loved, but decided against signing the writer? If so, could you tell me about it?
Once or twice, yes. I met with the person and decided it wasn’t a smart match. There were signs, some subtle, some not so subtle, but I clearly recognized them.
What are some of the common mistakes you see writers make?
A lot of incoming writers either know very little about the marketplace, thinking that I or someone else will shade in those areas for them, or know too much about it from entertainment sites and blogs. When it comes to the writing itself, there are two issues that I commonly see. One is the inability to properly setup a main character; the other is fast or lazy planning, as if the story will write itself, which leads to very little conflict and drive. I stop turning pages. There’s no anticipation, which is the key in my opinion.
What are the current trends that you are observing in the industry?
I’m a proponent of the “big idea, small movie.” Look at something like THE PURGE or MONSTERS, most recently. Those are small movies with big concepts at the center. The former made over 25 times its budget and the latter provided a springboard for its director – he’s now doing the 100-million plus GODZILLA for Legendary. I think MONSTERS cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars.
How important is it for writers to be able to think about the ideas in the context of different platforms, such as web, literature, etc.? 
Writers shouldn’t look at their ideas as something they need, or have, to platform; they should look at ideas that are perfect for one particular medium but can have tentacles that branch out to other media. For example, recognize a concept that would be best served as a digital series and plan accordingly. If it comes to fruition and is successful, be prepared to discuss the network or cable series, or feature film, it could generate. I like to think of the original medium as an incubator for an idea that can become a brand with a very long shelf life.
Would you have any advice for writers trying to break in and eager to find management?
Write better than the person next to you, be tenacious but respectful, and be able to laugh at yourself once in a while.

Marc Manus is a former award-winning photojournalist who attended USC film school before entering the field of artist representation. His first job was with manager Cathryn Jaymes, who represented the Academy-Award winning writer/director Quentin Tarantino, among others. After a brief foray into independent producing Marc held positions at various management companies including Incognito Entertainment, which produced the Warner Bros.’ comedy “Three to Tango.” He then partnered with talent manager Jamie Gold for a couple of years, until he ventured out on his own to form Manus Entertainment. Marc now has a well-respected roster of up-and-coming writers and directors who have been involved in film and television projects at companies such as 20th Century Fox, Anchor Bay, Escape Artists, IFC Films, Lionsgate and Syfy. A few of his recent client projects include the original spec screenplay “Cornered,” in active development with 1821 Pictures, a remake of “Phasma Ex Machina” set up at Universal Pictures and “Crawl to Me,” an adaptation of the best-selling graphic novel from publisher IDW. Marc most recently served as co-producer on the micro-budget supernatural horror-thriller “Delivery,” which made its world premiere at the 2013 Los Angeles Film Festival.